By Carly Stucky
Special Contributor to the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society
July 26, 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is arguably one of the most influential pieces of federal legislation. The ADA transformed public spaces in the United States by providing accessibility and helped spark changes in public attitudes toward persons with disabilities. In celebration of this law, the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society (UT) is launching a series of blogs to highlight the importance of the ADA and its impact on sports participation and physical activity around the world.
To get started, we reached out to Paralympian and Special Advisor with the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Ann Cody.
A U.S. Paralympian in Wheelchair Basketball and Athletics in 1984, 1988, and 1992, Ann won one gold, four silver, and one bronze medal during her career. She also won the 1989 and 1990 Chicago Marathons and the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon in the women’s wheelchair division, and in 1990, she was named USA Track and Field’s Disabled Athlete of the Year and the Association of Wheelchair Sports’ Athlete of the Year. In addition, in 2004, she was inducted into the Adaptive Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2017, she was awarded the Paralympic Order, the highest honor bestowed upon a person in the Paralympic Movement.
Building on her success as an elite athlete, social change advocate, and adaptive sport expert, Ann began working at the U.S. Department of State in 2014 as a Program Officer in the Sports Diplomacy Division. In that role, she envisioned and helped develop a program aimed to share the promise of the ADA and U.S. adaptive sports expertise to build more inclusive communities through sport worldwide.
“After overseeing UT’s implementation of the Global Sports Mentoring Program focused on empowering women and girls, I wanted this mentorship model to be available to adaptive sports leaders, particularly leaders with disabilities around the world,” Ann said. “I was impressed with the high-quality leadership training, mentor-mentee relationships, program outcomes, and sustainability of the network.”
Thanks to Ann’s leadership, in 2016 the U.S. Department of State launched the Global Sports Mentoring Program: Sport for Community in cooperation with the UT Center for Sport, Peace, and Society.
In alliance with U.S. Embassies around the world, international leaders are nominated for their accomplishments and motivation to make an impact through sport in their local communities. Approximately 16 delegates are selected annually and are paired with American business leaders and experts in inclusive sport for a five-week, immersive mentorship. During this time, delegates gain valuable insights into sports management, networking, and best practices, while also developing a sport-based, social business plan. At the end of the five-week program, delegates present their strategic action plans in Washington, D.C. and return home equipped with new knowledge, tools, resources, and networks to grow and improve sports opportunities for persons with disabilities in their communities. The 2020 installment of the program will begin in April.
Since its launch in 2016, this disability rights-focused program has graduated 62 delegates from 46 countries, who, with the support of 19 host mentorship organizations, have directly impacted more than 28,000 people worldwide. In addition, 77% of alumni of the program have implemented at least one component of their strategic plan of action.
We asked CSPS Director, Dr. Sarah Hillyer, about Ann’s role in the success of this disability rights-focused program.
“Ann’s vision and support will be a lasting legacy of her role as Program Officer,” Dr. Hillyer said. “The multiplier effect of her investment is literally impacting thousands of lives around the world. We are grateful for her leadership and the opportunity she provided for us to build on the success of the women’s empowerment efforts and apply a similar mentoring framework for the adaptive sports community.”
Humbled, and encouraged by the impact, Ann says she’s been most impressed by the generosity of the mentor organizations and the relationships built with their international leaders and the network of alumni who remain connected to and supportive of one another and to the program long after returning home.
“It’s important to know that you have powerful, passionate allies in this work,” Ann said. “Tearing down ableist structures in sport and society can be exhausting and connecting with others is essential for success. This is part of the magic of GSMP.”
For more than a decade, human rights activists and advocates fought tirelessly to give life to the ADA and see its effects in action. Similarly, international delegates selected to the Global Sports Mentoring Program share the same ambition of transforming communities into more equal and inclusive spaces.
We’re excited to launch this series of blogs highlighting the many ways CSPS alumni are creating change for persons with disabilities across the world.